Tag Archives: ftth

Competition, and something more, drives Comcast upgrade in Huntsville

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Demand.

Chalk up another win for broadband competition. Comcast announced that it was expanding its next generation – DOCSIS 3.1 – cable modem footprint to Huntsville, Alabama, and would be offering gigabit-level service to at least some customers. Details on service locations, roll out schedule and prices were lacking, though.

What clearly isn’t lacking is a competitive threat. Huntsville’s publicly owned electric utility is in the process of building a fiber to the home network that will be operated by Google Fiber and offer gigabit service at about half the price that Comcast charges in the four cities where it’s already offering it. Those cities include Nashville and Atlanta, where Google Fiber is also deploying fiber to at least some neighborhoods, Chicago, where Google-affiliate Webpass is present, and Detroit, which has neither.

Comcast similarly responded to plans in Santa Cruz to build a municipally-backed FTTH system by upgrading its plant.

AT&T previously announced that it would be offering gigabit service in Huntsville. It, too, has reliably followed Google Fiber’s lead as it prioritises the capital investments it makes in service and infrastructure improvements.

Although Comcast and AT&T are certainly playing defence and trying to prevent competitors from gaining a foothold, there’s also something like a virtuous circle effect going on. Google is – or, at least, was – identifying communities that were favorably disposed towards ultra-fast Internet service and then pumping up enthusiasm even further. For example, according to a story by Lee Roop on Al.com, Google reps spoke at a recent meeting of Huntsville entrepreneurs. One talked up the potential for small businesses and “another Google representative said homeowners can expect a $5,000 increase in their homes’ value if they add fiber optic cable”.

The more enthusiasm and awareness, the greater the market potential for high end broadband service. Competition feeds demand which draws even more competition. That’s how Huntsville is staying on the right side of the digital divide.

Initial Charlottesville FTTH share pegged at a realistic 20%

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Ting, a fiber to the home overbuilder, expects its take rate in Charlottesville, Virginia to hit the 20% mark in its first year, and keep growing from there. That’s based on the initial response to its build out, which is very much guided by the level of interest that residents show, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of Ting’s corporate parent’s latest earnings call (h/t to Sean Buckley at FierceTelecom for the pointer). Tucows CEO Elliot Noss told analysts

It is also worth noting that while we start — started building the network in service and customers in Charlottesville even before we instituted our pre-order system, pre-orders now play a key role in guiding our network expansion there just as we will see in a new town like Holly Springs. Also, pre-order is proving to be about as good as an order with over 90% conversion so far from one to the other…

We expect to see 20% adoption among serviceable addresses in a year and 50% in five years. At these take rates we’ll be paying about $2,500 to $3,000 per customer in CapEx and those customers will be worth about a $1,000 a year in margin.

The 20% figure is a refreshingly realistic assessment of the immediate market potential of an FTTH overbuild in a market where two mainstream telecoms companies – Comcast and CenturyLink – also compete to provide broadband service. It’s in line with the track record of overbuilders in other markets, and particularly with what we know about Google Fiber’s take rates in similarly cherry picked neighborhoods. It’s also an interesting contrast to politically driven projections that aren’t constrained by the legal penalties that await publicly traded companies that pump up false expectations.

On the other hand, 50% is very optimistic, but arguably defensible. As the coverage map above shows, Ting is focusing on areas near the University of Virginia, with higher move in/move out rates , and on newer, affluent residential areas.

CPUC considers filling Silicon Valley broadband gap

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A $1.1 million subsidy for a trimmed back fiber to the home project in Paradise Valley, a community in the hilly outskirts of Silicon Valley, is up for approval at the California Public Utilities Commission. Proposed in 2015 as a $2.8 million venture reaching 515 homes, the Light Saber project in southern Santa Clara County was challenged by a local wireless Internet service provider, who claimed to already cover the area.

Not completely so, apparently: more than 350 homes in less affluent San Martin were cut from the project area, but a draft resolution approving a grant for the rest from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is slated for a vote by commissioners at their first meeting in February. According to the draft…

The proposed project will provide the Paradise Valley community with improved access to e-health services, as well as online economic opportunities. It will also provide public safety benefits by enabling the local communications facilities that provide voice services to meet FCC standards for E911 service and battery backup. The proposed project will also supply public safety agencies in the area with an interconnected public safety data communications network.

Home service begins at $109 per month for symmetrical 50 Mbps service with a two year commitment, and dips to $90 per month with a three year lock in. A symmetrical gigabit will run $289 per month on the two year plan, with a $10 per month discount for a three year term.

South Santa Clara County is a patchwork of Frontier (ex-Verizon), AT&T and Charter territories. Broadband service ranges from mediocre to non-existent, with business and consumer subscribers showing a high level of dissatisfaction with incumbents, even in Morgan Hill, the next door neighbor to San Jose, the self-styled capital of Silicon Valley.

If a final decision is made at the CPUC’s 9 February 2017 meeting, it will be just shy of a year late. CASF program rules approved by the commission set a 106-day deadline for processing and voting on infrastructure construction grant applications, a time frame that’s necessary in order to keep private capital in the game. No justification for taking four times as long as allowed to reach a decision was offered in the draft.

Suddenlink FTTH push might not reach California

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Most of Suddenlink is somewhere other than California.

Altice, the fourth largest cable operator in the U.S., plans to leapfrog DOCSIS 3.1 coaxial cable upgrades and go straight to fiber. At least in some of the markets it serves. Yesterday, the company announced its intention to build “a next-generation fiber-to-the-home network capable of delivering broadband speeds of up to 10 Gbps across its footprint”. Sorta. It qualified that promise by saying it “expects to reach all of its Optimum footprint and most of its Suddenlink footprint” within five years.

The question is whether that wiggle room could exclude California. There’s reason to think it might.

Altice took over the Optimum brand when it bought Cablevision, a cable operator that’s largely concentrated in the northeast U.S. – it’s not a player in California. Suddenlink is the other cable company it acquired last year, and that footprint includes a scattering of largely rural markets across California, as well as systems in much larger markets such as Dallas and San Antonio. Technically, “most” could mean anything from 51% on up, but even if you assume it means 80% or 90%, that’s still enough room to wiggle out of California, which Suddenlink used to refer to as “elsewhere”.

Another factor to consider is that Altice is investing in FTTH to counter the competition it faces from Verizon’s FiOS systems. Again, those tend to be concentrated in the northeast. There are some FiOS systems in California that were formerly owned by Verizon and now belong to Frontier Communications, but none of those are in Suddenlink’s territory. Competitive pressure is not going to be pushing Altice’s upgrade capital in California’s direction.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, though. A key resource for any FTTH upgrade is the availability of affordable and accessible middle mile fiber. Suddenlink has already taken advantage of the Digital 395 project in eastern California and several of its systems sit on or near other major fiber routes. Altice says it’ll start announcing its rollout markets schedule “in the coming months”.

Welcome to Webpass City, California

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We won. Why shouldn’t you believe it?

Google finally ‘fessed up to ditching its fiber construction business. In a blog post worthy of Baghdad Bob, the (now) former head of Google Fiber and related businesses – Craig Barratt – promised to “stay ahead of the curve — pushing the boundaries of technology, business, and policy — to remain a leader in delivering superfast Internet“. As he also announced his resignation.

By the time you read this, Google Fiber’s website might have changed, I’m sorry, pivoted again, but as it stands Californian cities are either transitioning from potential fiber city limbo to incumbent monopoly hell, or have been blessed as “Webpass cities”.

Which amounts to the same thing.

As the dust settled on Barratt’s mea culpa mission accomplished declaration, the Silicon Valley communities of San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto were left in the potential category, where Google is “going to pause our operations and offices”.

Translation: we’re done with you, but we’re not going to actually say it because we’d lose whatever leverage remains over AT&T, Comcast and the rest.

Google is also “ever grateful to these cities for their ongoing partnership and patience, and we’re confident we’ll have an opportunity to resume our partnership discussions once we’ve advanced our technologies and solutions”.

Translation: so long and thanks for all the fish.

But San Francisco, where it had previously said it was in the fiber business, San Diego where it said it might some day be, and Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville where it’s never previously shown any interest, Google is now proclaiming as “Webpass cities”.

Translation: we bought Webpass, we’re not sure why anymore, but we own those customers there, so we’re going to claim them and hope no one notices the difference.

The possible, but not likely, exception is Irvine, which Google still lists as “upcoming”. Given the dismantling of its fiber construction operations, that’s a distinction without a difference: if there isn’t fiber there already, there never will be. Not from Google, at least, but almost certainly not from any competitive private sector player either.

Frontier complaints drop as it fixes California FTTH problems

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Hundreds of fiber-to-the-home customers crashed and burned when Frontier Communications took over ownership of Verizon’s wireline networks in California last April. Phone, Internet and television service was disrupted, apparently because the customer data Frontier received from Verizon was faulty. The problems were compounded by a temporary call center that was drafted in to help Frontier get through the transition period.

The company’s position is they’re in business as usual mode now, and preliminary data from the California Public Utilities Commission appear to back it up.

The CPUC met in Long Beach last week, ground zero of Frontier’s meltdown. Of the 30 or so members of the public who signed up to speak at the meeting, only one man used his time to lambaste Frontier. That’s one indicator that things are getting better – more people made the trip to Sacramento last May to complain to legislators, when the troubles were at a peak.

The available stats also show marked improvement. More than 500 people filed complaints about Frontier with the commission in April, and more than 600 in May. By June, that number was down to a quarter of that level and it continued to drop in July and August. In September, only 62 complaints were received, which does look like business as usual – Frontier expects to handle 50,000 service issues in a normal month, according to regional president Melinda White, speaking to lawmakers in May.

The flood of problems was concentrated on the FTTH systems that Frontier acquired from Verizon, and “there was no similar widespread service disruptions for the rest of the service territory using traditional voice service over copper lines during this transition period”, communications division director Michael Amato told commissioners. The communities hardest hit were Camarillo and Santa Monica, and a cluster of cities around Long Beach, including Lakewood and Huntington Beach.

Reboot for dueling San Bernardino FTTH projects

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Frontier’s federal CAF2 subsidised census blocks.

Two competing proposals to build a fiber to the home system in the San Bernardino County town of Phelan and surrounding communities are now a lot closer to meeting in the middle.

More than a year ago, in August 2015, Race Telecommunications submitted a proposal asking the California Public Utilities Commission for a $48 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) for its Gigafy Phelan project – that’s 60% of the then-estimated construction cost to reach about 10,000 homes with fiber. In January, Ultimate Internet Access filed an application for a $21 million subsidy to serve more or less the same number of homes in more or less the same area.

In the ensuing months, both companies have been in discussions with CPUC staff. As a result, UIA bumped up its request by $662,000 and Race slashed its proposal by more than half, to $23 million, and reduced the subsidised share from 60% of construction costs to 50%.

The CPUC posted the revised project descriptions last week, giving incumbents another formal chance to challenge the applicants’ position that the area is underserved, in other words the broadband service that’s available now doesn’t meet the minimum CASF standard of 6 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload speeds. As a matter of practice, though, incumbents are allowed to challenge a CASF project proposal right up until the time the commission votes on whether or not to approve it.

Facts on the ground have changed somewhat over the past year. Frontier Communications has taken ownership of the telephone system serving the area, and has accepted federal subsidies to upgrade broadband service in much of it to at least the FCC’s 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speed standard. Charter Communications, which offers video but not Internet service, is under a CPUC order to upgrade its TV-only systems in California to broadband capability, at a minimum of 60 Mbps download speeds. Neither upgrade has actually happened yet, though.

Military homes proposed for California broadband grant

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High density, low service.

A broadband subsidy plan for Vandenberg Air Force Base could bring fiber to the home (or at least to the building) service to military housing there. Renegade Technologies, a Lompoc-based information technology company, submitted an application for a $460,000 grant and a $154,000 loan from the California Advanced Services Fund, proposing to “provide advanced Internet access services to all dwelling units in residential areas of Vandenberg Air Force Base including apartments & dormitories by installing a new fiber-to-the-building (FTTB) infrastructure”.

Raw U.S. census data from 2010 shows 1,035 housing units on the base, with a total population of 3,338 people. The housing area targeted by the application was flagged as underserved in a three-county study I did for the Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast, based on wireline service reports filed with the Federal Communications Commission. Before it sold its wireline systems in California to Frontier Communications, Verizon claimed to provide DSL service there. California Public Utilities Commission field testing indicates that mobile broadband is poor to non-existent.

But as the report also points out, assessing broadband availability in military housing is problematic. Often, service is provided by base contractors and isn’t reported to the FCC. Network tracking information maintained by incumbent carriers might or might not account for the unique characteristics of military communities. Independent providers generally aren’t present – for obvious reasons, a company can’t just drive onto a military base and start installing communications gear wherever it wants. And census data is often murky – definitions designed to fit typical civilian housing types don’t always match up with military practice.

The publicly released application summary is very light on details, so it’s not clear whether Renegade actually has a contract to serve those homes or, indeed, any other kind of relationship with the Air Force, or if it’s just cranking up a bid.

Salt Lake City may be debut of Google Fiber 2.0

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Critical mass.

Google has launched what might be its last fiber project. Or maybe it’s the first deployment of Google Fiber 2.0. Residents and small businesses in the densely populated central area of Salt Lake City can now sign up for service, if they are in reach of the fiber plant that’s been installed.

As it typical, Google is hazy on the details of exactly where service is available, or what future expansion plans might be. However, one clue is the emphasis that Google is placing on apartments, condos and office buildings. According to a story in the Salt Lake City Tribune, apartment complexes had a head start on construction

In terms of residential customers, [Scott Tenny, head of Google Fiber business operations in Utah] said, single-family homes will require a visit from an on-site installer, while many apartment dwellers will be able to switch on service more simply.

Google Fiber has taken advantage of a steep increase in apartment building in recent months, Tenney said, and wired a large number of new residential complexes during construction for easier access once tenants move in.

At this point, Google’ Salt Lake City deployment has more in common with its limited plans for San Francisco, where it is specifically targeting multiple dwelling units within reach of existing fiber that it can lease from other carriers, than it does with full city builds in, for example, Kansas City or Austin. Or the full city builds in Silicon Valley and Portland that were put in a deep freeze while Google evaluates fixed wireless service via magic radios.

A mix of fiber to the premise builds in areas that are sufficiently densely packed to make a business case and wireless as far as it will go elsewhere is a rational strategy for maintaining hopes of an acceptable return on investment somewhere down the road. It’s a strategy that AT&T embraced a few years ago, when it decided to focus wireline investment on high potential areas, and then followed it up with an aggressive and ongoing push to move less profitable wireline subs to wireless-based service.

It’s a sharp departure from the vision of a fully fibered future that Google dangles in front of communities it’s courting. The gigabuck realities of fiber builds seem to have changed that vision.

CPUC okays grants for Occidental FTTH, consortia, public housing; cancels dormant projects

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With no discussion and plenty of advocates in attendance, the California Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved a $7.7 million construction subsidy for a fiber to the home project in Occidental and grants for three regional broadband consortia and 12 public housing programs. It also rescinded five previously approved but currently stalled California Advanced Services Fund infrastructure projects, putting $4.5 million back into the kitty. More details here.